Relaxation is one of the primary benefits of a hatha yoga practice, as well as one of the sweet gifts of life itself. When our body and mind is relaxed and at ease, we can function optimally, allowing a balanced, calm and harmonious state throughout. However, a relaxed body and mind can be challenging for many to attain. Relaxation often takes practice. The practice of relaxation involves the ability to let go. Often we only feel this experience from the state of sleeping, however this can be a conscious practice as well. In hatha yoga, and ayurveda, we practice active relaxation so that deep healing may occur naturally in the body-mind. The more we develop our ability to create a relaxed state in our hatha yoga practice, the more we begin to develop the skills to manage stressful situations off of our mats with clarity and ease.
The following guidelines will help you to cultivate relaxation both on and off the mat, as well as tips for helping your students to relax.
Guidelines for Relaxation & Teaching Relaxation:
- Relax & Breath-Breathe with a focus on lengthening your exhalations and releasing tension in the body with a sigh. Focus on a longer exhale that inhale; as prescribed in the Yoga Sutras-this encourages the nervous system to become calm and quiet..]
- Focus-Give your mind one activity to focus on, such as a challenging asana or a deep breathing technique.]
- Reduce external stimulates. Reduce noise, (turn off your cellphone for a while), visual stimulants (turn off the tv/radio) and clutter.]
- Use eye pillows and sandbags in savasana.]
- Cultivate Mindfulness-Find quiet time for meditation, and watch your thought patterns, especially noticing (without judgment) any negative thought patterns. Then, during your day, notice when these thought patterns repeat themselves-often they happen during times of anxiety/fear/depression. Experiment with replacing the thought pattern with the complete opposite, allowing space for positive thought patterns to re-create. Honor the power that every thought manifests in some shape or form, and choose positive!]
- Lighten Up-Choose activities that you find joyful, and spend time laughing!]
Center yourself before teaching or guiding relaxation; recognize that the energy and intention behind your teaching is conveyed to your students, and it will be difficult for them to relax if you are not relaxed.
Guide Relaxation at the Beginning or End of your classes:
Allow for a longer relaxation after asana, and longer relaxation for later evening classes. Morning classes usually benefit from a shorter relaxation, as most students will be heading out for the day, although this depends on the intent and style of class, and population that you are working with.
Create a Relaxed Environment
Lighting-Dim the lights, using candles (unscented) if possible, or simple natural light
Music-Use slow, soft music with a droning quality-avoid percussion or high pitched sounds, and anything with complex or rapid rhythm. There are many fantastic relaxation cd resources for yoga and massage, that can be very powerful for your students. Often beginners have an easier time relaxing with soft, subtle music, however total silence can be wonderful as well. Take cues from their body, facial expressions, and breath to notice if you feel they are truly relaxed.
Temperature- If your room is cool, offer your students a blanket.
Vocal Tone & Rhythm
Use soft, gentle, slow verbal cues. Use simple and efficient wording.
Offer bolsters, blankets, eye pillows, and sandbags when possible. Eye pillows help to remove external stimulation, the weight of sandbags on the thighs or shoulders can offer a very grounding, safe feeling, and blankets and bolsters can allow the students body to soften on the floor more readily. Encourage your students to allow the palms to roll open and close the eyes.
Encourage Focus on Breath
Often beginners feel uncomfortable “just lying on the floor”. Give their mind something to focus on by reminding them of the importance and the great benefits of
breath awareness. Remind them to watch the inward and outward flow, remind them to keep the breath slow, without straining to do so, remind them to hold the breath in for a few moments, even contracting the body, so that they may fully release when the exhale comes. Then, ask them to release all active control of the breath, and let the breath happen passively, at it’s own natural rhythm.
Work with a Mantra or Affirmation
Encourage your students to focus on a simple mantra or affirmation that you are offering them-choosing something neutral and positive, and repeating only a few times, with plenty of silence in between.
Transition Gently Out of Relaxation
Use slow, relaxed verbal guiding and take your time guiding them out of the relaxation experience. Give them permission to take plenty of time to transition;
“bring your awareness back to breath, slowly drawing your body over into a fetal position. Reflect on your practice, noticing any changes in the body-mind.”
Guide your students into a closing seated posture. This is a good time to offer a longer meditation because their body is open and relaxed and more receptive, and perhaps close with seated pranayama and/or chanting om.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation/Body Scan
- Contraction & Release
- Creative Visualizations-Fantasy/Future/Positive Past Experience
- Mantra or Affirmation Repetition
- Grounding Pranayama Techniques (not invigorating techniques)
- Guided Imagery